At the risk of this being the most efficient game review ever: you should go and download Data Wing right now, because it’s brilliant. The weird thing is, it’s not a game that immediately screams play me. If anything, it at first looks a bit ordinary.
You start off flying what appears to be a refugee from ancient arcade game Asteroids. It flits about minimal top-down racing circuits, while all kinds of eye-smashing weirdness burbles away in the background. But then an AI pops up and starts blathering away.
DOES NOT COMPUTE
It turns out, you’re a ‘data wing’, designed to ferry information about a system apparently designed by someone with a thing for retro gaming and racing. This involves getting from A to B, battling inertia and gravity, and boosting by scraping your tiny triangular craft against track edges.
All the while, a story starts building. The AI seems to have designs on being human. There’s reverence for – and a modicum of interaction with – the hallowed ‘user’. And yet something feels slightly off about your boss’s machinations as you blaze about, doing its bidding.
As you play, the story unfolds in surprising ways. You meet friendly malware that tries to tempt you, and peek into the innermost thoughts of the user.
Really, this shouldn’t work – two intertwined storylines that end up packing emotional clout, combined with a minimal racer. But Data Wing swiftly becomes a mobile title you won’t put down until you crack the very last challenge.
Not that doing so is easy. Although Data Wing clearly wants you to progress and doesn’t slam you into too many difficulty walls, it does regularly shake things up.
The most basic races are time trials, where you complete a circuit within a strict time limit. Some add extra-time gates, or have you complete against seemingly zombified data wings. (Best not think about where they came from.)
But some levels are almost adventure-like, complete with puzzles and keys. Some are particularly ingeniously laid out, with you having to carefully utilise speed-up mats and scarce track edges to clamber your way to an exit high above.
Data Wing showcases how a little imagination can be transformative even in relatively minimal mobile fare. This could have been yet another top-down endless racer with pretty graphics. Instead, it’s a miniature masterpiece – a bold mash-up of racing, narrative, puzzle-solving, and logic tests that yanks you from exhilarating action to heart-twanging plot twists again and again.
As noted before: go and download Data Wing right now, because it’s brilliant.
Data Wing is available for Android and iOS.